Although increasingly unlikely, the possibility of a scrapie-specific nucleic acid carried by infectious prion particles is still unresolved. Return refocusing gel electrophoresis was developed to detect homogeneous and heterogeneous nucleic acids extracted from highly purified scrapie prion preparations. This method was improved with respect to the size range from 13 to 1100 nucleotides (nt) over which analyses could be performed. The yield of nucleic acid, particularly of small DNA oligonucleotides and polyadenylated RNA, was determined after deproteinization and two-phase extraction. Despite extensive nuclease digestions some small polynucleotides remained. Although a scrapie-specific nucleic acid cannot be excluded, the results further define the possible characteristics of a hypothetical molecule. If homogeneous in size, such a molecule would be <80 nt in length at a particle-to-infectivity ratio near unity, if heterogeneous, scrapie-specific nucleic acids would have to include molecules smaller than 240 nt.


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